I took Niall and Brendan to the National Christmas Tree in DC this morning, knowing that we-- I-- needed a little pick-me-up after a week that challenged my faith in humanity. There are probably few things in this world that are better than looking into the eyes of an excited child; which is what makes last week's tragedy even more devastating.
But I suddenly realized, at this innocent children's holiday exhibit, exactly why these kinds of things are happening in our world today. It was always pretty obvious to me that our society was becoming more and more desensitized when it comes to violence, but I didn't realize how much is engrained in these little kids' minds before they even know what they are saying, sometimes before they can even construct a complex sentence.
Niall walked up to the gate that kept the children from completely destroying the model train set that had been carefully set up around the base of the tree, and was quickly joined by some 5 or 6 year olds who were clearly on a field trip. They jumped up onto the slats on either side of Niall and began "firing" with the pointed pickets, pretending they were "shooting up the Christmas tree"... then came some machine gun noises, followed by gun pointing gestures with squinted eyes to focus on the target. All that the teachers/ chaperones said was: "Watch out for the little boy."
I used to laugh when I saw things like this, thinking "boys will be boys"... but as soon as Niall started imitating older kids who did this sort of thing, I became deeply disturbed by it. My 2 1/2 year old son was saying things like "We have to kill the bad guys!" because he had heard it from his own little buddies. Now every rod-shaped object in our house has become a sword and I am having to explain to his tiny, innocent little brain how incredibly unacceptable it is to say that you want to hurt someone. Why would a 3 year old know what it means to kill? Why are we letting them learn and repeat something like this?
We don't let him watch anything violent on TV-- in fact, the other day I got really excited when I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was still on the cartoon network. "Niall, this was my favorite when I was little!!" But after about 10 minutes, I turned it off because I realized that even a childhood favorite of mine was too much for young eyes.
The problem is, it doesn't matter that we don't let him watch any of that stuff because he is going to learn it from someone else. He's not even in pre-school yet! He picks things up in the few hours we spend playing with friends each week. What really scares me is when he is at the age where video games become the big thing. The thought of him pressing that control button repeatedly and eagerly, aiming at the TV screen, yelling "I killed him!" makes me want to throw up.
I made a vow to myself that I will never ever let Niall play anything where the goal is to shoot or blow people up, but I am about 99% sure he will find it at someone else's house. It's so horrifying to me that these innocent children are being not just allowed, but encouraged to lose the very thing that makes childhood so precious.
My heart aches for those families in Connecticut and all I can do is think "What if that was my kid?" I wouldn't be able to go on, and I don't know how they will. In times like these, we are forced to find the good since we can't find the reason. And so the only thing I can come up with is this:
If an angel came to me while I was pregnant and said "You can choose-- your son will die at 6 years old after a short, but completely fulfilled life of joy, beauty, adventure, laughter, love, fun and play.... or he can live a long life-- but the catch is, you will have to keep him locked in your house; shield him from all evil, all potentially dangerous situations; no school, no movie theaters, no shopping at the mall, no airplanes, no cars, no bikes, no restaurants, no playing at a friend's house. Just a simple life sheltered from the world, in the care and containment of his home", I would reluctantly and heavy-heartedly choose the former, because I know that is what my child would want. And just because some people in this world want to steal the innocence and joy from a child's heart, doesn't mean we should give that to them. So I will continue to show my kids the love and joy and laughter and adventure that make up this thing called "childhood." And remember that, mostly, life is good.